Tag Archives: Curiosity

Curiosity’s historic comet photo

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Photo Credit: Curiosity on Mars – NASA Rover Opportunity Views Comet Near Mars.

According to NASA:

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity captured images of a comet passing much closer to Mars than any previous known comet flyby of Earth or Mars. The images of comet Siding Spring were taken against a backdrop of the pre-dawn Martian sky on Sunday (Oct. 19).

Images of comet A1 Siding Spring from the rover’s panoramic camera (Pancam) are online at:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA18591

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA18592

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18617

Researchers used Opportunity’s Pancam to image at a range of exposure times about two-and-one-half hours before the closest approach of the nucleus of comet Siding Spring to Mars. By the time of closest approach at about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers), dawn had lit the sky above Opportunity.

“It’s excitingly fortunate that this comet came so close to Mars to give us a chance to study it with the instruments we’re using to study Mars,” said Opportunity science team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, who coordinated the camera pointing. “The views from Mars rovers, in particular, give us a human perspective, because they are about as sensitive to light as our eyes would be.”

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Curiosity sees a familiar “evening star.”

It’s enough to make one homesick. This view of Earth from Mars.

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Taken by the Mars rover Curiosity 80 minutes after sunset during the rover’s 529th Martian day (Jan. 31, 2014).

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This image includes the moon and this is obvious in the zoomed in view (right).

According to the caption:

“This image combines information from three separate exposures taken by Mastcam’s right-eye camera, which has a telephoto lens. The body in the upper half of the image is Earth, shining brighter than any star in the Martian night sky. In the lower half of the image is Earth’s moon, with its brightness enhanced to aid visibility. To a viewer on Mars, even the moon would appear as bright as a very bright star.”

Thanks to Jet Propulsion Laboratory | News.

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Phobos eclipses the sun – as seen by Curiosity

I find this fascinating – a short video of an eclipse of the sun by the largest Martian moon, Phobos. Photographed by Curiosity a rover/laboratory landed on Mars just over a year ago.

Mars’ Moon Phobos Eclipses the Sun, as Seen by Curiosity

Celebrate your curiosity – one year on

This week we mark the first anniversary of the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, in the Gale Crater on Mars.

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Self-portrait – Curiosity on Mars

TV and video coverage of this landing had a huge international audience on the night. It was certainly one of the top scientific events of the year.

The video below gives a short review of Curiosity and its landing.

Curiosity Rover: One Year on Mars

Celebrations

Curiosity team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the mission overall in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website from 10:45 a.m. to noon EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 6 (2:45 to 4 a.m. Wednesday Aug. 7  NZST).

Immediately following that program NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA.

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

The events will also be carried on Ustream at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl

And here’s a few links with further information on Curiosity, its discoveries and celebration of the anniversary back here on earth.

Mars Science Laboratory: Celebrate Your Curiosity: Anniversary Week Activities
Mars science laboratory
Curiosity’s Views of Gale Crater

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A sundial on Curiosity?

When I saw the first reports of this on Twitter I thought it was a joke. A sundial on Curiosity? Just in case the computer packs up they can still tell the time? I thought some wag was pulling our collective legs with a photo of one of the rover’s antennae.

But, turns out this is something like a sundial. Its a Marsdial – actually a calibration target enabling photographs to be corrected for colour. BIll Nye, from the Planetary Society, describes its role in Curiosity’s Marsdial is on Mars!

“As I’m sure you’re aware, geologists love rocks, and they especially love the rocks on Mars. The first thing they all want to know about a rock is what’s it made of. For that, it’s good to just take a look at the color of the rock surface. When everything is being done on the alien landscape of another world, it’s easy enough to electronically get the color wrong, or not quite right. To that end, artists, photographers, and a few scientists have noticed that by looking at the color of a shadow on a neutral white or gray background, you can infer the color contributed to the scene by the sky.

On Earth, shadows take on a sky blue tinge (what I like to call “cerulescence”). On Mars, it’s a salmon color (what I like to call “arangidescence”). And so, the MarsDials bear a small metal post that casts a shadow onto some white and gray rings of known value or grayness.”

The NASA animation above is made up from four Mastcam images of the calibration target — the Marsdial. They were taken on Curiosity’s sol 3 (August 9, 2012) over a period of about 8 minutes. In that time, the shadow moved slightly, marking time on Mars with a sundial. (You may need to click on the photo to see the animation).

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Infectious jubilation

Crowd in New York’s Times Square celebrate successful Mars landing – 1:30 am. Credit: Jason Major (@JPMajor)

The mass interest in the current Olympics, and yesterday’s landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars really brought home to me that we are an empathetic species. We celebrate the achievements of others and feel the jubilation they do when things go right.

And with Curiosity’s successful landing I think we also celebrate the achievement because we see that it belongs to all of us. It is an achievement for all humanity.

The achievement is huge. The technically difficult landing seemed to go without a hitch. Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory were receiving images within minutes. Everyone was aware that attempts at Mars landing have a history of failure.

The descent by parachute was photographed by a high-resolution camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. – see below.

Photo: NASA – Curiosity Spotted on Parachute by Orbiter.

That seems incredibly lucky but clearly a lot of skill and technology went into this achievement as well. As Phil Plait wrote on Bad Astronomy:

“The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.”

According to a media briefing earlier today the full version of this image also shows the abandoned heat shield which landed some distance from the Curiosity’s landing site.

Patience

Now we have to be patient while Curiosity is checked out by engineers and slowly brought into full functioning. It will be weeks before the vehicle starts driving around, sampling soil and rocks, and analysing samples.

Even the downloading of images already captured will take time. So far we are only seeing relatively low resolution images. Large teams of engineers and scientists will be working strange hours (the slightly different length of the Martian day (sol) and the Earth day causes “jet lag” for these people) receiving data, planning experiments, writing code and uplifting code and instructions.

Andrew Kessler gives an idea of the activity and life style of the teams involved in managing the last Mars lander – Phoenix – in his book Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission. For my review of this book see Working on Mars.

See also:
Curiosity requires patience
Going for gold – on Mars
Seven Minutes of Terror
Christmas gift ideas: Working on Mars

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Going for gold – on Mars

Artist’s impression of Curiosity Rover on Mars. Credit: NASA

I know Kiwi readers are going to have a hard time dragging themselves away from TV coverage of the London Olympics – and our current ranking in the medal tables – but it’s worth putting in an effort early Monday evening for the planned landing of Curiosity on Mars. This is scheduled for 5.31 pm New Zealand time – between the reruns of New Zealand Olympic triumphs on afternoon TV and live coverage of the new days activity in the evening.

There will be a number of sites streaming live coverage, but the NASA TV  is a safe bet. When I say live – it will be live coverage of the the scientists and engineers behind the attempt, and their reaction to incoming data. There is a camera on board the probe which will record video but that won’t arrive on earth for a few days. But those scientists and engineers are going to be pretty emotional – it will be a bit like one of those attempts at Olympic gold medals we have followed lately.

I imagine that space enthusiasts around the world will be organising their own parties and venues to follow coverage. NASA coverage will even be broadcast publicly in Times Square, New York. OK, landing is at 1:30 am local time – but they say New York is the city that never sleeps.

My earlier post Seven Minutes of Terror has a video showing the complexity of the landing operation. There is obviously a large chance of failure, because much of the landing technology is new. This will add  to the excitement and tension of the video coverage.  If successful, Curiosity will be largest rover yet to land on Mars. This image gives some idea of its size

Credit: NASA

It’s really a mobile laboratory and  will search for any evidence of past or present habitable environments in the Gale Crater area. Curiosity has mast-mounted instruments for surveying its surroundings and identifying potential sampling targets. Instruments on its robotic arm will enable close-up inspections. Sample of rock, soil and atmosphere will be analysed by instruments inside the rover. Even during its descent sensors on the heat shield will collect information on the atmosphere.

Curiosity’s initial planned programme provides for 1 year of investigations, and may be extended depending on funding and performance. It’s going to be fascinating to see what this rover discovers. Discovery of life, or potential habitats for life, or even evidence of past life will create wide interest. But even negative results will give valuable insight into the similarities and differences  between early Mars and early earth.

Let’s not forget that there is always a large team behind space probes and rovers like this. The photo below showing 2/3rds of the team behind Curiosity give some idea of its size.

Credit Allen Chen: @icancallubetty

And for those who love toys – Mattel Inc., who manufacture a die-cast line of Hot Wheels toy cars, is ready to release the car-size Curiosity as its latest 1:64 scale miniature in September. The Hot Wheels “Mars Rover Curiosity” set is part of Mattel’s assortment of 247 toy cars for 2012.


For posts on the landing and work of the last Mars lander see:
Good luck Phoenix!
Phoenix has landed!
Working on Mars

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